‘Fashion is the buzz for the season – style is a way of life’

She has dressed Princess Margaret and Princess Diana. Now, as Caroline Charles celebrates 50 years in fashion, the legendary designer tells me the lessons she has learned…

Caroline Charles chats to Katy Pearson

Caroline Charles

Staying the course for 50 years in anything is an impressive feat. But in the fickle world of fashion it’s an almost unfathomable achievement.

It was 1963 when Caroline Charles made her first samples in a Chelsea attic. Fifty years on, having dressed everyone from royalty to rock stars, she remains one of Britain’s best-loved designers.

As she marks this milestone with a new book, the leading London designer reveals her style tips.‘If I could give women one style tip, it would be to wear their hair up – necks should be seen,’ she says. ‘And my pet hate is very high-heeled shoes, because they restrict movement.’

While celebrities have favoured her designs for decades, Caroline Charles, who was awarded an OBE for services to the British Fashion Industry in 2002, can’t do without a pair of good black trousers: ‘Black trousers… wide, narrow, cropped.’

Last year, another legendary fashionista, Dame Vivienne Westwood, claimed that ‘no one has any style any more.’ To this, Caroline remarked: ‘Style is in the eye of the beholder… I feel there is an overdose of denim, but there are also some great examples of high style – for example, Daphne Guinness and Dita Von Teese are incredibly well-dressed.

‘There is a lot of sportswear as daywear and individual style: boho, jazz, retro-vintage, which is exciting and inspiring.’

Does Caroline think you have to be fashionable to be stylish? ‘No: fashion is the buzz for the season,’ she says. ‘Style is a way of life. Fashion is unpredictable. You sense it, see it obliquely. London is a great melting pot for fashion ideas.’

And she doesn’t envisage leaving the industry any time soon: ‘Fashion is a part of daily life for me. It is what I do.’

Caroline Charles: 50 Years In Fashion, is published by ACC Editions, priced £45.

CAROLINE CHARLES’S DECADE-BY-DECADE OF STYLE

1960s ‘After the sophisticated, sexy and womanly clothes of the 1950s came the Youthquake. An ingénue Lolita look was sexy, but in an apparently innocent and amusing way.’

1970s ‘The collections we made then were small, and the mood in general had begun to swing away from kooky, short shapes towards gentle and ethnic hippy styles. ‘The collections were very New Romantic and the fabrics became more and more fabulous as European companies brought us suitcases full of irresistible swatches.’

1980s ‘This decade is famous for wide shoulders and a smouldering Joan Collins in TV classic Dynasty. Our collections had gently gathered material at the shoulder to create width and we added a mix of longer, pleated skirts and short, leather, tight pencil skirts. There were elegant, long, slim dresses for charity evenings or private dances and touches of New Romantic ruffl ed shirts. During various seasons we were inspired by gaucho culottes, and then Mexico, South of France, and English gardens.’

1990s ‘We started designing a new working woman collection to add to our existing ones. This was a good project and to this day I still wear some of the original pieces: linen blends and fi ne, stretch worsteds in navy, with white T-shirts – perfect.’

2000 ‘The financial feel-good factor of the millennium year inspired us to make the Caroline Charles Studio collection using vintage-style fabrics and embroideries mixed with modern pieces.’

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